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Shecky Greene is a frequent visitor to Bagelmania for breakfast, but last Saturday was different. It was my dad’s 88th birthday.
“Really, I’m 86,” Shecky said. “Hand me your phone, I’ll call him.”
And so he did. My dad, who luckily was at his Florida home at the time, picked up.
“Happy birthday,” I said. “I have a surprise for you.”
“Murray, this is Shecky…Shecky Greene,” he said.
After not at first believing it was him, Shecky started doing jokes in different dialects and my dad knew then it really was him. My dad later told me it really made his day.
That’s the kind of person Shecky Greene is. Living life as it comes. It probably explains why he once drove into the fountain at Caesars Palace. Reportedly as police arrived, the windshield wipers were going. Greene rolled down the window and said, “No spray wax.”
Today Greene divides his time between homes in Las Vegas and Palm Springs. He no longer performs on stage and said he wouldn’t even if he were asked.
“My performing days are over,” he said. “Vegas just isn’t the same as I remember it in the 1950’s when the mob ran it. Howard Hughes started bringing the place down.”
So why stay in Vegas if you don’t really enjoy it?
“Vegas did a lot of good things for Shecky Greene,” he said. “The 50’s were special. Those were the best of times.”
Indeed they were. Greene was one of the biggest nightclub acts here for some 30 years. He was the second headline act to Dean Martin at the MGM Grand Hotel in 1975, making a salary that once climbed to $150,000 a week. The only standup comics in that ballpark were Don Rickles, Buddy Hackett, Bill Cosby and Johnny Carson.
Greene grew up in Chicago and came to Vegas on the advice of his agent. His act was held over for 18 weeks at the Frontier, a first for the Strip at that time. Horse racing was his passion and to this day Arlington Park in Illinois still runs the Shecky Greene Handicap annually. There was even a horse named Shecky Greene that ran in the 1973 Kentucky Derby, won by the legendary Secretariat.
“I’ve had many things happen in my life,” he said. “I used to do a lot of wild things as a kid so I became a comedian.”
Speaking to my dad out of the blue was completely in style with Shecky’s personality. And I’ll be forever in his debt for making one man’s day very special.
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